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2012
 

Menstuff® has compiled information and books on Gay, Bi, and Transgender issues. This section is Robert N. Minor's weekly column featured daily on our homepage. Robert is the author of Scared Straight: Why It's So Hard to Accept Gay People and Why It's So Hard to Be Human and Gay & Healthy in a Sick Society and Professor of Religious Studies at the University of Kansas in Lawrence. He may be reached through www.fairnessproject.org or at E-Mail.

2015, 2014, 2013, 2012, 2011, 2010, 2009, 2008, 2007, 2006, 2005, 2004

Surprised that There’s So Much Rape in the Military?


In 2012, 26,000 women and men reported sexual assault in the American military. We have no record of how much remains unreported.

That’s only one year of victimization in what military brass admitted before Congress was a “cancer.” If it weren’t for the seven women on the Senate Armed Services Committee, I’d expect such reports to be buried.

Hearing so many of the old Congressmen respond to this with stupidity, sexism, and pseudo-science, even surprised those of us who expect so little out of right-wing politicians. And blaming the existence of women in the military ignores the fact that 14,000 of those victims were men.

That’s 6.1% of the women in the military and 1.2% of the men. And 98% of the reported sexual assaults on men were committed by other men.

In one of the most insightful analyses of this epidemic, Ana Marie Cox of The Guardian concludes: “it’s something about being in the military today, at this moment in history, fighting the kinds of wars we’re fighting with the kinds of troops we have.” [“The Real Roots of the US Military’s Epidemic of Sexual Assaults”]

“It’s a truism among feminists – if not senators – that rape is a crime of violence, not of sexual attraction…. Could it be that the real crisis in today’s military is tied to not who these soldiers are, but the nature of what we’re asking them to do?”

Today’s military with a growing number of soldiers and veterans diagnosed with mental illness and chemical dependency, with the tactics of modern warfare and the length of troop service, exacerbates what we’ve taught our men culturally and our military men in particular.

It starts with what we teach our boys as they enter puberty about what manly sex is. In Scared Straight I called that conditioning, the “Nine Layers of Getting Laid,” a paradigm that continues to dominate junior high and high school male gender roles idealized in the studs of contemporary media.

This cultural conditioning is often excused as the male sex drive. Georgia Senator Saxby Chambliss said in the Senate hearings: “Gee whiz, the hormone level created by nature sets in place the possibility for these types of things to occur.”

But the third of those layers is that “Getting Laid” for high school boys is impersonal. “It is best if a boy isn’t otherwise acquainted with, or a friend of, the sexual object. One does not marry the girl who is the best lay…. Getting laid, therefore, is not about the person.”

The more that this impersonal layer is internalized - the more it’s felt that the sex isn’t done to a person but an object - the easier it is to deny that there’s violence involved. One isn’t really hurting another person.

Add to this the seventh layer - that “Getting Laid” is self-centered, that it’s done to someone on the agenda of a real man - and the sexual act becomes an act of power over another. One can see this in the raping of men by men who identify as heterosexual in our prisons – a situation that’s often made into a joke.

Now, most of our boys know that something like this conditioning is there in their teen years but they fight it silently, internally and seemingly alone because men don’t talk about their deviations from “manhood.” But what happens when we add the conditioning men encounter in the military?

A key goal of the military’s basic training is turning recruits into warriors who’ll be ready to kill others if called to do so. But a man can’t do this if he thinks of the enemy personally.

That’s why enemies must be turned into stereotypes and described with phrases such as: “human life isn’t valuable to them.” The face of the enemy must be inhuman or it would be hard to destroy it.

Military conditioning thereby adds another layer to thinking impersonally of others. Other human beings are objects, not living, loving human beings who are sons and daughters of real people.

But it also de-humanizes the warrior himself. His own value comes to be understood as contingent upon not only is ability to kill others but his willingness to be killed defending the system.

Violence to others becomes even easier. And violence against oneself as a just a killing machine who’s been put further out of touch with his own, caring, feeling humanity also becomes easier.

A true warrior expects violence. He could even use its presence to finally provide value for his own insecure manly self-worth.

He can earn a medal from real men at the top for killing another man, after all, but be killed for loving one. Valuing oneself for such violence turned inward has spurred a record level of suicides among those who serve and veterans, so that in the past twelve years more have died by their own hand than by enemy fire.

What’s actually surprising is that these figures aren’t much higher. The conditioning is doing everything it can to encourage sexual assault as an act of power and violence over some object so as to assert one’s manhood and worth.

But they’re not, because men aren’t inherently like this. They’re not naturally driven by testosterone and hormones, no matter how we might use these as excuses.

It’s not that “boys will be boys,” for a lot of abusive manhood conditioning software has to be installed in our little naturally loving, caring, feeling boys to make them killers and sexual assaulters. And enforcing that is the fear that if they don’t act tough, hard, cold, and object-oriented enough, they’ll be put down as girly and fags.

Add to this their impression that society has given up on men. It’s not challenging their conditioning but sending them to anger management, drugging them, or finally throwing them away in prison.

Conditioning is all learned, and what is learned can be unlearned. But do we have the courage to lead that charge?

Now, What Will the Celebration Over ENDA Look Like?


What a relief it was to hear that the US Supreme Court had overturned Section 3 of the “Defense of Marriage Act” that was signed into law by centrist Democrat Bill Clinton in 1996. No longer can the federal government define marriage as exclusively heterosexual.

Now it’s back to the states, for this Court is for nothing if it isn’t states’ rights. The President can decide if federal marriage benefits are defined by the definition of marriage in the state one lives or the state one is married in, but the battle for full marriage equality depends upon politics at those state levels and some long, drawn-out court cases that must begin soon with same-sex couples suing for recognition in their non-accepting home states.

One legal hurdle is gone, and the celebrations all around the nation were exuberant, maybe overly. There should be relief that on the way to full human rights the law has taken this turn even as the right-wing flails in reaction and there’s so much more to do.

The push for marriage all began with the hope embedded in Hawaii’s surprising legalization of marriage equality in 1993. Since then, the majority of the resources of the LGBT community and its allies have been focused upon marriage equality.

In addition to this lengthy court case, thirteen states have since changed their laws with one or two more following soon.

The concentration of resources on marriage equality isn’t surprising because for those in LGBT communities who are privileged not to have to worry about their jobs and wealth - those who control the most resources - this is the cause that touches most immediately upon their self-interest.

But in the 29 states where someone can be fired for being gay and the 34 for being transgender, those not so privileged experience more life or death issues. The more basic issues of jobs, careers, and income loom large.

As Harvard professor and author of A Queer History of the United States, Michael Bronski told Salon.com: “All of these probably white, probably upper-middle-class people who’ve been fighting for marriage because it’s a good fight, will they be as willing to give $500 a year to Lambda [Legal] to fight trans youth harassed by police? We’re dealing with how people’s politics come out of their experiences.

“A white middle-class couple living in the suburbs of Illinois may not have much desire to think about transgender youth, possibly of color, living in New York City or San Francisco. Isn’t that the job of the national organizations to convince people that this is as important as the issue of same-sex marriage?”

Journalist-filmmaker David France, known for his documentary chronicling activism during the AIDS crisis, How to Survive a Plague, was even more concerned: “This is a deeply conservative victory and, yes, a too expensive one, given what our leaders have let slide in recent years. Marriage won’t stop the runaway HIV epidemic among our young. It won’t stop religious hatred, sexual assaults, reparative therapy crimes, bullying, Mormons, Boy Scouts or popes.

“Although I am myself gay-married, and while I do enjoy being endorsed by a SCOTUS majority, even a slim one, I’ve been utterly dumbstruck watching every resource at the community’s disposal channeled into this one optional and limited middle-class goal.

“We used to be revolutionaries. We once were outlaws. And now: betrothed? If we settle for this, we let the whole world down.”

For those not privileged, news that the federal Employment Non-Discrimination Act had obtained its fiftieth U.S. Senate sponsor and was approved by the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee by a 15-7 bipartisan vote on July 10, could have raised the hope of some economic security.

But even FOX and CNN gave no coverage to the furthest ENDA had advanced in the seventeen years since it was first introduced to Congress. And one wonders how many in the LGBT community even know ENDA is a cause.

Even in the former slave state of Missouri, the state’s senate ended its session by for the first time passing the Missouri Nondiscrimination Act. The fight for this first step by Missouri’s LGBT political advocacy group, PROMO, has been long and grueling, but it hasn’t received anything like the amount of attention and financial support that has left Missouri to promote the marriage cause.

It’s not unusual for those in any demographic who have risen in a class system above overt discrimination to forget what it’s still like for the majority. It’s not unusual for them even to deny the discrimination others experience, refuse to believe that much discrimination still exists, or blame those who experience it as bringing it on themselves. Just think Clarence Thomas.

But times like these are also tests as to whether any community of people actually exists. Is the category being used to lump people together a fiction? Or is economic class what really and primarily divides Americans from one another when it comes down to it?

The pursuit of marriage equality without the same effort invested toward ending workplace and accommodation discrimination confirms the claims of many activists that there really is nothing we can call the LGBT community. There are the elite and the rest, different generations, L’s, G’s, B’s, T’s and others, as well as many other divisions whose identities are based upon their personal interests.

Even the earliest versions of ENDA did not include provisions to protect transgender people. It was added in 2007, but Barney Frank then believed transgender people should be sacrificed to make its passage more successful, thereby riling many activists.

Socio-economic class is the major divider in Capitalist America. So we’ll see how it plays out in the so-called LGBT community. But for those who really want permanent equality for all, it can’t be a barrier.

“People shouldn’t consider themselves progressive just because they support their own rights,” said veteran LGBT activist Allen Roskoff. “I’m tired of people saying they’re progressive because they just support their own rights more than equity for all.”

"On the Serious Politics of Lying"


It’s silly season. And it would be laughable if elections weren’t downright serious.

We’re about to see the worst of politics. It’s been building all summer, but now the money really flows. So, here we go.

“Awash in money” is an understatement as the 1% bids for owning the political winners. The system is drowning in corporate and billionaire’s contributions. As cowboy-comedian Will Rogers, Jr, put it generations ago: “We’ve got the best Congress money can buy.”

Not telling the truth has always been a part of politics, but we can expect the outright lies from the right-wing to increase to a level never seen before. And when someone points out the lie, we can expect them to continue and do it blatantly.

There’s no penalty in the mainstream media. Even if it’s a known lie, when repeated long enough, it becomes just another opinion treated as equal to fact-based claims.

It’s unusual to find anyone in the mainstream media who is any help. If it weren’t for the evening lineup on MSNBC, there’d be no TV personality willing to question what’s said.

The right-wing has intentionally learned how to bully the media by repeatedly labeling them as liberal. Now even that is too weak a bullying epithet for them. The official Republican language now labels them far left or far, far, left as well as socialist and Marxist.

In response, the major networks, CNN, NPR, and PBS have moved further to the right from any centrist positions they might have ever held in order to prove to the right-wing that they aren’t partial. They can no longer tell the truth and so must create false equivalencies as if “both sides” are constant liars.

To claim that fundraisers thrown by Tom Hanks, Bill Maher, or Rob Reiner are on par with those thrown by right-wingers like the corporate baron Koch brothers or casino tycoon Sheldon Adelson is just plain idiocy. The Hollywood stars want marriage equality, health insurance for all, funding for public education, and social safety nets, while the corporatists are buying legislation to put more billions in their own pockets with little regard for whom it hurts.

In fact, the right-wing believes that hurting people is good for the losers. It creates character or is just payment for deficiencies in the lives of the sufferers.

Reporters worry about losing access to their right-wing sources. So the most of them won’t follow-up by challenging claims from politicians sitting right in front of them, looking them in the eye while repeating distractive and proven-false talking points.

Wrongney/Lyin' 2012: No jobs for fact checkers!

So-called fact-checking organizations are also bullied and so aren’t always frank in order to appear “fair,” acting as if “both sides” are equally culpable. No matter how it’s not factually true that FOX and MSNBC are equivalent liars, we’ve been taught by the right-wing that the sophisticated position is to look down from above the fray and say that both sides “do it.”

It’s as if the moral high ground is wishy-washy. And the so-called pundits are therefore required to search for some way to peer down with scorn from “fair and balanced” towers upon people with fact-based stands.

The Karl Rove Super-PAC money is on the way – more than ever. It will be impossible to watch TV without seeing some lie told by Rove’s studios about Democrats.

FOX News will continue to be the voice of the right-wing of the Republican Party and the exclusive source of what’s not going on to the base that doesn’t think there are facts anymore. They too are masters of lies and fabrications.

Now, it’s against many people’s natures to call someone a liar. It feels nicer, kinder, and even more winsome to find other ways of interpreting lies.

We’ve often been taught not to say the word lie. We’ve been cautioned to try to understand the liar instead, put ourselves in their shoes, not be offensive.

But the political lies we’re being told are not harmless little fibs. They’re intentional and meant to keep the power of the liars in place. They protect the powerful and lead to suffering and even death for the rest.

The lies being told about healthcare reform, we know, will result in 45,000 more Americans dying this year. The lies being told about wars will result in thousands more deaths this year. The lies being told about LGBT people resulted in at least thirty murders in 2011, the highest number ever.

We can’t be in denial about this. We must get over our shock that the right-wing lies.

This does not mean that the rest of us are always truth tellers. It means that the lies right-wing leaders are telling are consciously so.

They know they are. Even when confronted by that fact, they repeat them for their purposes. Even right-wing religious people believe that it’s okay to tell a lie if it promotes their own sectarian Truth.

Liberals Lie! (mostly to themselves)

We can’t turn our heads. We can’t live off of our privileged positions and act as if lies don’t matter because they aren't hurting us personally right now.

We must be truth-tellers. That doesn’t mean we have to be mean, but we have to make sure that we express our view of how things are.

We can’t act as if all views are equally valid either. We have to stand for something.

We can’t afford to turn away or turn inward. If we do, when the lies do come down on us we will be alone while we face the consequences.

We have to present a model of beliefs for which we stand. We must act as if we mean it and it’s important, or we’re telling people it doesn’t really matter.

We can’t afford to be relativists, thinking that all views are equally right. Relativism, too, is a privileged position that supports those who already have the power to maintain the status quo.

The oppression of others is always evil. And lies supporting it are just plain reprehensible - and often deadly.

The Politics of Hopelessness, Skepticism and Dropping Out


Who can’t understand why people are frustrated, skeptical, fed up? We have two political parties with a monopoly on politics that are dominated by corporate interests.

We often find ourselves voting for the least awful alternative, not a candidate who courageously champions our interests. We hear the label “liberal” used of people who barely lean left and often tilt to the right, who readily seem to cave in to the right-wing in order to get re-elected.

We desperately want to believe in someone. So we scrounge around like abused spouses clinging to anything that tells us they’re for us, that their critics don’t understand.

We make excuses for their failures to stand boldly against the opposition. We tell ourselves to be realists because it’s really, really, really the best they can accomplish “given the state of politics.”

Such feelings are widespread. In terms of the corporate world, for example, a recently released Gallup poll conducted in 2011 indicates that about two in three adults worldwide believe corruption is “widespread” in the businesses in their countries.

This belief ranges from 60% in the U.S. and Canada to a high of 76% in sub-Saharan Africa, tending to be higher in lower income regions. Though American mythology wants us to accept that those at the top of our industries have somehow risen like cream due to moral superiority, most people know better than to buy that.

In 2001 the U.S. was perceived as the 16th least corrupt country in the world whereas in 2011 we are viewed as 24th. Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index now ranks New Zealand and Denmark as numbers 1 and 2, with Canada tenth and the U.S. 24th right behind Chile and Qatar.

Meanwhile, the establishment’s desire to suppress the voices it doesn’t want heard takes many forms. We see it in the suppression of voting with voter ID laws of those who are unlikely to support corporate takeover of the government. We see it in reports of voting machine fraud.

But the most insidious method of suppression of opposition is to convince us that there is no hope, to encourage us to repeat the mantra that it doesn’t matter. As poet, essayist, novelist, activist Audre Lorde wrote: "That you can't change City Hall is a rumor being spread by City Hall."

You hear this in people giving up, claiming “politicians are all the same,” or griping: “they’re all crooked.” You see it in those that won’t even vote and those who refuse even to think about the politics that’s emptying their pocketbooks.

You hear it in young people who say: “I don’t expect Social Security to be available by the time I retire.” And you want to tell them: “Why doesn’t that get you so angry that you’re ready to burn down every radio station that plays the oldies to which generations collecting it nostalgically listen?”

When we hear this, we confront exactly what the right-wing wants - people whose energy, time, donations, and actions could change things who won’t get involved. That silence and paralysis is actually a vote for the right-wing’s agenda.

As Paul Weyrich, co-founder of the ultra-conservative Heritage Foundation as well as the Moral Majority explained to a 1980 Dallas religious right-wing gathering: “I don’t want everybody to vote…. As a matter of fact, our leverage in the elections quite candidly goes up as the voting populace goes down.”

Additionally, to suppress further activism, if you can ensure that the economic rewards system for the 99% involves jobs that deplete all their energy, time, and strength, if you can make their work stressful and insecure enough, if you can create the necessity for overtime and multiple jobs, then you can ensure that people will be too exhausted to get involved.

And if you can get them to blame each other for the problems the 99% experience daily, you can keep them at each other’s throats so they won’t work together for change.

As historian Howard Zinn wrote of the mythological “unity” that is supposed to be the U.S. in his conclusion to A People’s History of the United States (1995): “It is important for them [“the Establishment – that uneasy club of business executives, generals and politicos”] also to make sure this artificial unity of highly privileged and slightly privileged is the only unity – that the 99 percent remain split in countless ways, and turn against one another to vent their angers.”

Blame the poor for the taxes levied on the middle class to bring the poor relief to build resentment on top of humiliation. Blame LGBT people for the problems of American families caused by culturally-hyped consumerism, keeping parents over-worked, and increasing economic insecurity, and ensuring that we have worse social and economic safety nets than in most advanced societies.

It took the Occupy movement to focus political discussion to income inequality from the distractions about government deficits, giving us an understanding of what “the 99%” means and how out of touch that other 1% can be. That didn’t arise directly from the Democratic Party, much less the Republicans.

And it will take involved individuals, not those who are lost in their skepticism or caught up in complaining and spreading their negativity on to others, to make a difference. It will take those who are willing to embrace hope to pass that hope along to those who have opted out hopelessly.

One doesn’t have to turn into a happy, clappy optimist. I’m certainly not that.

But we can decide to stop what is hurting us. We can choose to act on hope.

We can join movements of people whom we may now write off as utopian. We can choose not to support the nay-sayers.

Hopelessness is a feeling, while hope is a choice. We can think, act and decide to free ourselves from letting regressive forces control our thoughts and lives.

This will have to be a choice we make over and over again, because the system continues to do everything it can to get us lost in hopelessness.

“We Look Like Mississippi”


In a Greenville NBC affiliate interview, North Carolina’s outgoing Democratic governor Beverly Perdue said: “People around the country are watching us, and they’re really confused. To have been such a progressive, forward-thinking, economically driven state that invested in education and that stood up for the civil rights of people, including the civil rights marches back in the ‘50s and ‘60s and ‘70s — folks are saying, ‘What in the world is going on in North Carolina?’ We look like Mississippi.”

Perdue was reacting to North Carolina’s 62 to 38 percent approval of a constitutional amendment to ban non-heterosexual marriage. On May 8, it became the 29th state to do so and the last of the Southern states - including Mississippi.

Fair criticism? I don’t know. After all, she didn’t say: “We look as bad as the Magnolia State.”

I live in Missouri, a former slave state that passed such an amendment by an even greater margin. Here state legislators scramble to outdo themselves for crazy. They just gave gun owners a protected status, legislated the constitutional right of citizens to participate in rodeos, and erected a bust of Rush Limbaugh in the statehouse, while maintaining every discrimination possible against LGBT people.

Such comparisons are politically common, though. How often have we heard conservatives believe they were criticizing Democrats for having “San Francisco values?”

But, unlike San Francisco, down in Jackson, Mississippi, Governor Phil Bryant didn’t take kindly to the comparison at all, as if being likened to his state on marriage equality were an insult:

“She’s a very nice lady. It’s just disappointing. To be able to use Mississippi in a disparaging way on a popular vote in her own state is, I think, something that’s certainly petty and something I think she will reflect on, and hopefully apologize for those types of remarks.”

To hear someone label one’s state “backward,” I guess, evokes defensiveness even if Mississippi earned its reputation as last in so many measures. It’s dead last in median family income, nest egg savings, students who complete high school, per capita visits to the dentist, best states to live, public transportation, and seatbelt use, and near the bottom in numerous measures such as people who’ve completed bachelor’s degrees, numbers of library visits, grade 8 math scores, overall child health, divorce rates, and total number of roller coasters.

If one were really conservative, I’d think being considered backward against the cultural tide would be a compliment. Wasn’t Mississippi the state where the war on women folks believed it was so backward that voting on an amendment last year to define a person as beginning a conception should be a shoe-in? Well then, even Mississippi couldn’t buy that.

The good news for Mississippi and North Carolina is that they can stand proudly with other “red states,” in the Deep South and some bluer ones further north. The bad news, I guess, is that they stand with what much of the world does label “backward.”

And maybe people in Mississippi don’t like that label. On the other hand, Kansas seems proud to be labeled the most politically conservative state in the union as measured by its congressional delegation, which isn’t much different.

“Conservative” has come to mean regressive, moving backward while the world moves in the opposite direction. It no longer means what “conservation” of natural resources or voting for Richard Nixon meant. It’s so negative that the Bush’s had to assure us that they were “compassionate” conservatives.

The movement of culture as it opens equal opportunities to new groups is today’s conservative enemy. Conservatives proudly look back to some good old days where their nostalgia fantasizes things as so much better.

It’s a badge of honor to prevent what they consider a degradation of some ideal they read into the past. As the culture moves on, they’re gazing into fogged-up rearview mirrors.

Meanwhile science has left them behind.

Meanwhile, younger generations are moving on, progressing in their support for marriage and women’s equality and leaving backward religious institutions.

Meanwhile, the general public is moving on. A March poll showed 52% of Americans favor allowing gay and lesbian couples to marry compared with about 40% in 2006 - 74% among those aged 18-29 now favor it.

Meanwhile, religious people are now found on both sides of marriage equality. Strong majorities of Jews (81%) and the religiously unaffiliated (77%) support same-sex marriage, in addition to 59% of Roman Catholics and a solid majority (56%) of white mainline Protestants.

Meanwhile, six states — all in the Northeast except Iowa — and the District of Columbia allow same sex marriages.

All this makes cultural conservatism even more desperate. If they want to make the world feel safer for their increasingly out-dated beliefs, they’re going to have to legislate them now, not tomorrow.

They’re going to have to “enshrine” them in constitutions. They’re going to have to make it as difficult as possible for the future to change.

Patriarchal male bishops are going to have to haul “disobedient” sisters back under their influence. It’s no wonder American bishops incited a Vatican crackdown on the Leadership Conference on Women Religious.

The problem with those nuns, the Vatican proclaimed, was “the prevalence of certain radical feminist themes incompatible with the Catholic faith,” especially their lack of outspokenness on issues of marriage equality, contraception, and abortion.

Conservatism is fear based, after all. The more afraid people get, the more they fear what they’ll lose, and the more they need to cling onto their own stuff.

Germany’s Third Reich knew this. They argued to the middle class that unless you voted for them, you were likely to lose the little you still had – you might not have much but others are going to take it from you unless you embrace Fascism.

In movies where the knight makes his final, ultimately victorious stand against the great dragon, just before the beast dies, there’s one final, more-deadly-than-ever swoop of the tail to confront. That moment is at hand in the struggle and those progressives down in Mississippi know it too.

Will These Supremes Care About “Equal Justice for All?”


I lost what was left of my naiveté about the equal justice ideal of the Supreme Court with their decision in Bush v. Gore to select George W. Bush president by suspending Florida’s vote recount in 2000. That political overreach by the increasingly activist right-wing majority, interfering in a state’s right to count its own votes, was so radical that in the decision itself they forbid it to ever be cited in the future as a precedent.

Harvard Law Professor, Alan Dershowitz concluded: “[T]he decision in the Florida election case may be ranked as the single most corrupt decision in Supreme Court history, because it is the only one that I know of where the majority justices decided as they did because of the personal identity and political affiliation of the litigants. This was cheating, and a violation of the judicial oath.” (Supreme Injustice: How the High Court Hijacked Election 2000)

I should have known. I’d read Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States where he traces the essentially conservative and pro-business history of the Court. Even in the 19th century, Zinn documents: “the Supreme Court, despite its look of somber, black-robed fairness, was doing its bit for the ruling elite…. How could it be neutral between rich and poor when its members were often former wealthy lawyers, and almost always came from the upper class?”

With “W’s” addition of ultra-conservative favorites Roberts and Alito, the right-wing justices became more radically activist to ensure that businesses had increasing power over individual citizens. All their carefully scripted talk in Senate confirmation hearings about following precedent and being “umpires,” not legislating from the bench, was no better than today’s right-wing political strategy that lying is okay if it promotes their ideology.

Decision after decision of the Roberts Court has eroded individual rights and increased the power of corporations and the police state. Eric Segall, professor of constitutional law at Georgia State University, in Supreme Myths: Why the Supreme Court Is Not a Court and Its Justices Are Not Judges goes so far as to argue that the Court, unbound by any court above it, set free by the vagueness of constitutional text, and uninhibited through the gift of life tenure, is operating like a freewheeling political "veto council" and not like any court that we would recognize as doing judicial work.

The activism of these right-wing justices was blatant in the 2010 decision of Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission. So intent were these justices on changing the political power in the country that they forced the case into doing so.

On June 29, 2009, in order to decide not on what was being argued by both sides but what they wanted to change in American society to benefit the interests of big business, the justices issued an order directing both sides to actually come back and reargue the case months later, saying they were really interested in whether they could overrule precedents that restricted corporate contributions to political campaigns. As Justice Stevens pointed out in his dissent, the Court addressed a question not raised by the litigants, and the majority "changed the case to give themselves an opportunity to change the law."

Even former Republican-appointed justice Sandra Day O’Connor questioned the decision. Prophetically, she warned: "In invalidating some of the existing checks on campaign spending, the majority in Citizens United has signaled that the problem of campaign contributions in judicial elections might get considerably worse and quite soon."

It was little surprise then that during the Court’s April hearings on challenges to the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, Justice Scalia, for example, parroted tea-party talking points about the government forcing broccoli on everyone. Carried away with teaparty Republican propaganda, Scalia criticized “the Cornhusker Compromise” proposal in congressional discussions even though that never made it into the Act actually before the Court.

As if no facts matter at all, since he already knew what his opinion should be, Scalia even complained that he shouldn’t be bothered with reading the actual bill that, aping the teaparty Republicans again, was too long. “You really want us to go through these 2,700 pages?” The questioning also made it clear that Roberts hadn’t read it.

Working its way toward this Court is Perry v. Schwarzenegger, the challenge related to Proposition 8 in California. Proposition 8 adds a new provision to the California Constitution that provides that “only marriage between a man and a woman is valid or recognized in California.”

On August 4, 2010, US District Court Judge Vaughn R. Walker overturned Prop 8 as a violation of the Equal Protection and Due Process clauses of the U.S. Constitution. On February 7, 2012 a three-judge panel of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals consisting of a conservative, a liberal, and a moderate judge agreed with Walker’s decision 2-1.

On February 21, Prop 8 supporters appealed the case to the full Ninth Circuit Court. If the Circuit Court decides to review the case, the decision could take a year or more before it heads to the Supreme Court.

Because this Supreme Court is so motivated by ideology, I am hoping this takes its time. I can’t trust this Court to do the legally right thing.

What will really matter is the political climate we the people create around this Court. The longer the process takes and the more lower judges that rule in favor of marriage equality, the more likely it is that this Court will too.

Time will give supporters of marriage equality the necessary opportunity to further change public opinion. If the case reaches this Court before Justice Kennedy, at least, sees the handwriting on the wall, it will be a long time before a negative decision will ever be overturned.

With the Supreme Court’s decision so final, with four ideologues who get their orders from the right-wing dominating Court decisions for decades, and with the other options being constitutional amendments or waiting until those four die, advocates need both the time and further efforts of all supporters to guarantee equal justice for all.

Will “Culture Wars” Work Again?


“Culture Wars” are back in the headlines. They actually never left politics.

Right-wing leaders have been invoking the symbol of “Culture Wars” ad nauseam without attracting mainstream media attention. But now current Republican leaders and presidential candidates have decided to compete to prove who is the most committed cultural warrior.

Ask activists in the field all this time. Among others, the idea of “War” has been used to justify support for Proposition 8 in California and to oust the Supreme Court justices who supported marriage equality in Iowa. Next we’ll hear it attempt turning back Washington State’s legalization of marriage equality.

The “War” is also framed as a “War on Religion.” The recent flap about requiring employers, religious or not, to cover contraception was expertly turned by the right-wing into this larger “war.”

Framing it as a “War on Religion” with reinforcement through right-wing fear of unbridled sexual license, politically seduces fundamentalist Protestants who feel their world is coming down around them into joining Catholics they’d never worship with in the battle. Even users of contraception got to fear that something bigger is taking place that threatens their religious freedom.

Picked up by right-wing talkers and Republican Party leaders who dutifully follow the script of talking-points handed to them to defeat President Obama, “religious freedom” became the rallying cry. In the mind of Darrel Issa, Republican Chair of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, this “War” justified his exclusion of women on a panel of “experts” during a congressional hearing about allowing religiously-owned institutions an exemption from covering contraception.

Responding to complaints from Democrats, a letter from Issa’s staff invoked this broader frame: “As the hearing is not about reproductive rights but instead about the administration’s actions as they relate to freedom of religion and conscience, he believes that [your one allowed panelist] Ms. Fluke is not an appropriate witness.”

Guns, God, and gays are useful issues. They’ve been tools to rile up the right-wing religious voting base on which Republicans depend.

Back in an August 17, 1992 speech at the Republican National Convention, presidential candidate Pat Buchanan infamously invoked the fear: “There is a religious war going on in this country. It is a cultural war, as critical to the kind of nation we shall be as the Cold War itself. For this war is for the soul of America.”

As Thomas Frank argued in 2004 in What’s The Matter with Kansas: How Conservatives Won the Heart of America, this call from political/economic conservatives to vote for them as warriors in an apocalyptic battle to save religion and culture was a diversion meant to lure the religious right-wing into supporting economic policies that would actually destroy the financial futures of their everyday members.

“Cultural anger is marshaled to achieve economic ends,” Frank wrote. “The leaders of the backlash may talk Christ, but they walk corporate. Values may ‘matter most’ to voters, but they always take a backseat to the needs of money once the elections are won.”

The success of this strategy for the Republican Party, as I argued in When Religion Is an Addiction, was due to the psychological condition of the radical religious right-wing at the time. They were ripe for the picking.

Their frayed, worn out addictive usage of religion while their churches were rejecting being yoked with “the world,” was no longer providing the “high of righteousness” on which they had come to rely. They needed assurance that they were still right.

They needed something more to relieve their fears about their beliefs, to prove they weren’t just kooks on the margins of an American culture that was leaving them behind. They found their salvation in movement politics.

Their addiction had progressed, so they needed continuous political battles and victories. Once addicted to those new user activities, they couldn’t stop finding and fighting one cause after another after another.

They needed the rejuvenating energy of fighting culture wars. They needed to believe they were crusading for their souls.

Their presidential hope, George W. Bush, let them down. Then, the symbol of everything they feared was elected president, and they portrayed President Obama as the face of all that is evil.

But the culture continued to change. Marriage equality picked up support. Women began to take for granted that they should have control over their bodies and reproductive choices. Younger generations grew less interested in the old people’s tired “war.”

A five-year study of the Millennial generation by the conservative Barna Group, for example, found that conservative evangelical churches are losing young people, particularly their most creative. Their report concludes that young Christians see the evangelical church as an exclusive club that runs counter to young peoples’ values of open-mindedness, tolerance, and support of diversity.

Still, the old right-wingers have gone back to what they knew. They’ve taken refuge again in “Culture Wars.”

Fittingly, Pat Buchanan began his February 4, 2012 column: “Yes, Virginia, there is a religious war going on. It is for the soul of America. And traditional Christianity is besieged.”

We know what the “Culture Wars” and “War against Religion” really are. It’s the diversion used to bring the religious right-wing to the polls and to move progressives off their strongest issues by responding to the outrageous things the right-wing says.

With religious addicts, as with any addict not in recovery, we know we must not be distracted by their arguments. We must set the agenda ourselves and refuse to let them get us off track arguing phony wars.

Barry Goldwater predicted this kind of fight. The defeated conservative presidential candidate in 1964 told Nixon advisor John Dean: “Mark my word, if and when these preachers get control of the [Republican] party, and they're sure trying to do so, it's going to be a terrible damn problem. Frankly, these people frighten me. Politics and governing demand compromise. But these Christians believe they are acting in the name of God, so they can't and won't compromise. I know; I've tried to deal with them.”

Sex in 2012


There’s probably no better time than Valentines Day to assess the state of sex in the US. You know, the sexual activity that raises fear among leaders of the religious right-wing that it might actually be popular even among their own.

Republican right-wing presidential candidate Rick Santorum is the latest political exploiter of this terror of sexuality, pontificating in a January interview that states should regain the right to outlaw birth control. Contraceptives are, he preaches, “a license to do things in a sexual realm that is counter to how things are supposed to be.”

This is out of touch with the reported ideas and practices of the vast majority of Americans. Even among members of the historically most rabid anti-contraception institution, the Roman Catholic Church, women favoring the expansion of birth control poll around 90 percent.

Yet the rhetoric of erotophobia seems effective. It even upsets enough people who don’t agree with Santorum’s crowd, scaring most into not speaking up to defend their actual private practices. We appear to have made little public progress in spite of what really goes on in our bedrooms.

In 2008, historian Dagmar Herzog in Sex in Crisis: The New Sexual Revolution and the Future of American Politics puzzled over why “it has been so hard for Americans loudly to defend sexual rights even if they definitely enjoy having them.” “This,” she observed, “creates an echo chamber in which the bullies get to set the terms of the debate.”

In the U.S. in 2012 sex is still one of the most convoluted topics, and that is because participating in sexual activity doesn’t mean one has developed a healthy sense of what their personal sexuality and its related activities mean to them. The messages that come at all of us from our culture and its authorities are still so mixed, confused, and consumer-driven, that what we’re told is actual sexual activity is buried under widespread distress, guilt, disappointment and fear.

As long as that’s true, attitudes toward sexual activity and our ability to stand up clearly for our sexual practices will be closeted, muted, or embarrassing. Sadly, in spite of the so-called sexual revolution, the freedom of younger generations, and the conservative counter-revolution, as a country we still find it difficult to think effectively about sex.

“Science” has tried to take over the discussion. Instead of morality, the questions posed are about normalcy, adequacy, and health. People want experts to assure them that their sexual fantasies, activities and frequencies are normal, their “failures” at sexuality are curable, their erections are adequate or need blue pills, their bodily parts are the right shape or size, and more.

We still know sex sells, and we practice that salesmanship. We still have media images of what sex should be with actors on the big and small screens who seldom duplicate them at home.

We still believe that sex is a means of getting close to someone, maybe THE means. Yet our actual sexual activities are often distancing or part of desperation to feel close to someone.

We still see people having sex with someone not just because they want to participate in sexual activity or they want to express the closeness they have with that person through sexual activity, but to prove to themselves that they’re still attractive and loveable. There’s nothing new in the use of sexual activity to cloak a negative self-image.

We still have those who use it as slaves to the consumer-culture’s glorification of youth as beauty, to prove that their aging has not diminished their appeal. Youth, after all sells. Products will restore it. Wrinkles don’t; they just happen if you hang around long enough.

We still have a disconnect between what we say is a relationship between sex and love while we hear jokes about and justifications for marriage causing a diminishment of sexual activity between partners.

We still see sexual activity used to express power over another or to participate in the power that another has. Both rape and the attractiveness of the powerful, we know, aren’t about sex.

We still hear pitiful attempts to relieve guilt over being sexual. Sometimes it appears in outward moralisms; sometimes it’s turned inward.

We still have examples of hypocrisy around sexuality among sex’s most vehement critics. It takes little psychology to suspect that those who brandish the loudest anti-sex positions are speaking out of their inability to reconcile with their own practices.

We are still inundated with public efforts to control women’s sexuality. Denying women contraception has historically been the best way to do so, guaranteeing that every sexual encounter could result in pregnancy and, through much of history, the chance of death in childbirth.

We still tell men that sex is THE means for a man to get, express, and experience closeness. If a man prefers substituting any of the hundreds of other means of expressing closeness with someone, we still wonder what’s wrong with him.

We still use words and phrases that have so many other meanings -- intimacy, morality, sleeping with, close to, doing it, getting any, going all the way, scoring, doing the dirty, and cheating on, for example – and know they mean sex.

So, in 2012, we’re still having sex, but we haven’t been able to have conversations about it to discuss what sex is, what it’s for, why we’re having it, what about it scares us, and how for so many it doesn’t seem to do what it’s supposed to do. Instead we respond with obsession, guilt, self-blaming, and bad public policy.

We’re still hearing moralists and preachers condemning sexual activity as they have for millennia. Their rantings still haven’t changed a thing, improved human relationships, or promoted a fully-human, fully-present, fully-sexual understanding of sex and sexuality in the world.

And we still have to struggle to get comprehensive sexual education in our schools. Instead we still have politicians scared to face the fact that statistically “abstinence-only” approaches fail.

Conclusion: in 2012, we still have a long way to go and a lot of courageous thinking to do.

When It Comes to Religion, Let’s Keep One Resolution


This year, let’s keep one resolution – when we talk about religious people, let’s never again refer to them as literalists. That’s because they aren’t, and no one is.

No one takes all their scriptures, tradition, or even their natural laws literally. They all pick and choose from the variety of material available to them, taking some of it literally and some not.

To continue to label them literalists is not only inaccurate, it gives them the edge in any argument. Even though everyone -- that’s everyone -- interprets and picks and chooses from the material available to them and decides what to take literally and what not to take literally, when we refer to right-wingers as literalists, we have conceded that we are interpreters but they the ones who understand it

This doesn’t mean that historians can’t determine what an old text meant to its authors in its ancient historical context with some academic probability. It means that past writings, activities, doctrines, and institutional pronouncements are interpreted by those who believe they must at be true at all costs, through the believing interpreters’ modern lenses.

Who today takes literally the writings of the Bible that say: “God makes the clouds his chariot” or “”let the hills sing out for joy” or “let the floods clap their hands?” When the author of the New Testament letter to Timothy tells him to “Greet all the brothers with a holy kiss,” there are few who claim to take the five passages in the Bible that call for such a greeting literally and therefore meet people at their church door with lips puckered.

They’ll argue that to understand their intent, one must see these verses in their historical context, and that today’s context causes one not to literally go around practicing, especially, same-sex kissing. So, Ah Ha! They’ve admitted that contemporary societal norms trump a “literal” Biblical.

The question becomes: okay, when don’t they? But when you ask that, be prepared to stand back and watch intellectual gymnastics explain how they’re the ones who really know what verses are eternal truths and which ones aren’t meant literally.

That’s what interpretation does.

It’s no wonder that there are some passages in the Bible that aren’t taken literally in the U.S. It’s just not a pro-Capitalist book. Those passages would condemn our entire economic system to hell.

In the older testament the Hebrew prophets regularly rail against loaning money with any expectation of interest in return, but when have you heard an American minister preach that usury meant more than 0% interest and that a society that allows usury is anti-God? If those verses ever come up, stand back again for mental gyrations that defend why they don’t apply in American Capitalism.

When Jesus of the Gospels says it’s harder for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than a rich man to get into the kingdom of heaven, watch the knee-jerk attempts to say he didn’t mean that literally for Americans. When he tells the rich young ruler to give all he has to the poor to follow him, don’t hold your breath waiting to have that literally take place among our richest church capitalists.

It should have been no surprise, then, when last month Tony Perkins, president of the rabid right-wing, so-called Family Research Council - whom some might call a Biblical literalist -asserted on CNN’s “Belief Blog” that Jesus was a free market capitalist who would condemn the Occupy movement.

For Jesus, he said, “there are winners and yes, losers.” “Jesus rejected collectivism and the mentality… that everyone gets a trophy – equal outcomes for inequitable performance.”

To prove that this wasn’t just a claim that affirmed his prejudices and current net worth, Perkins cited a New Testament parable generally known as the Parable of the Talents:

An abusive and crooked nobleman hated by the common people leaves town and entrusts some of his wealth to three of his underlings. In the text itself the nobleman describes himself as “a harsh man, taking what I did not deposit and reaping what I did not sow.”

Upon return, he rewards the two who made him more money with the funds entrusted to them (probably from extorting the people who owed their master money) and threatens the one who merely held the funds and returned them.

Thus, Perkins says, the evil nobleman (whom he takes to stand for God?) rewards investment-banker-type initiative and punishes the one who refuses to take money to make money. See, capitalism is holy.

Other interpreters understand the third underling as a hero who practiced a non-violent resistance by refusing to further exploit the poor debtors to the evil nobleman. In the immediate literary context they see this as a parable of what is to happen to Jesus, who in the very next chapter of the Gospel of Matthew is arrested and crucified.

Perkins is no literalist here. He’s a capitalist. Since he believes the Bible is true as well as the economic system that brought him his prosperity, he must interpret the Bible to agree no matter how hard it is to find American capitalism there.

And Jesus dieing with no huge following or large annual budget? That’s not a very good ending to the story.

It’s certainly not contemporary American. Where’s the building of a mega church?

And Jesus only leaving a few very poor disciples to occupy Roman society? And they began their new little community in Jerusalem by holding, the book of Acts says, “everything in common. Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need….No one claimed that any of his possessions were his own, but they shared everything they had.”

Then when a married couple named Ananias and Sapphira broke this communal commitment - didn’t share what they had earned from selling a piece of their own property, but kept it for themselves - God struck them dead on the spot?

Oh no! Quick! Interpret me out of that story.

© 2012 Robert N. Minor

Other Issues, Books, Resources

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Robert N. Minor is the author of Scared Straight: Why It's So Hard to Accept Gay People and Why It's So Hard to Be Human and Gay & Healthy in a Sick Society and Professor of Religious Studies at the University of Kansas in Lawrence. He may be reached through www.fairnessproject.org

 



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